By Nasheed Choudhury
Following the disappearance and subsequent murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard after walking home at night, the world has catapulted in a resurgence of cries for the need for men to be held accountable for their actions. Violence against women and the general trend of women being told to be extra cautious when they are alone have greatly increased in recent years, enraging many, since women should not have to be subject to taking such precautions.
This uproar has also resulted in a #NotAllMen rhetoric as a response that claims that not all men are dangerous, or not all men harass women. Some claim that everything going on is criminalizing the millions of innocent men and generalizing hate toward them. However, as true as this claim may be, it is disrespectful for this to be the first response to women facing such alarming situations. By protecting men instead of focusing on the issue of women’s horrific experiences, society protects the perpetrators and places scrutiny on the victims. What is misinterpreted for those that parade the #NotAllMen sentiment is that the concept is not that all men attack women but that almost all women have experienced discomfort or harassment at the hands of men.
“By protecting men instead of focusing on the issue of women’s horrific experiences, society protects the perpetrators and places scrutiny on the victims...”
The statistic that has been circulating is that 97 percent of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed. So although it may not be “all men,” it is an alarming majority of women. Women have no way of discerning which men may be a threat, and many feel that the number is significant enough for women to have to be on high alert. It is irrelevant to take this issue and transform it in a way to protect the men who do the bare minimum of respecting humans. #NotAllMen is just another way for people to silence women who do speak up, effectively silencing all women who might have spoken up.
The mockery and blatant disrespect towards movements such as the #MeToo movement and the current social outrage have continued to diminish women and the courage it takes to share their stories. #NotAllMen strives to steal the focus of the bigger issue and results in minimizing the very serious issue being faced by almost all women. Not only is #NotAllMen an abhorrent distraction from the real issue at hand, but it is also a backward and patriarchal sentiment that harms women more than it protects men.
“The details of Everard’s story are a painful reminder to women everywhere of the fear of walking alone...”
Our social norms only further the hesitance women feel about sharing their stories because of rhetoric such as “boys will just be boys.” However, boys cannot just be boys. The simple concept that boys are entitled to act a certain way because of their gender is so entirely insensitive and sexist. Boys should not just be boys. Boys should be respectful of all women. Boys should be held accountable for their actions. Boys should be actively tackling the violence and harassment toward women.
It is also wrong that many times, the response to such crimes asks women to behave differently. It is also wrong to assume if someone had been more modest or if they had been more attentive, nothing would have happened. We all, including people of authority, need to change how we view and answer crimes such as these. Victim blaming is an extremely detrimental response to violence faced by these women.
Artwork by Sabeena Ramdarie
Women often find themselves in scary and uncomfortable situations and often feel the need to share their location with family and friends to ensure their safety.
Blaming women for the heinous actions of their perpetrators must come to a stop. Preventing victim blaming is the first step to making women feel safe to share their stories. This can be done by creating open, honest, and safe spaces for women to come forward about their experiences without judgment. What can also be done is withholding from telling women what they should and should not do to keep themselves safe and instead, ask what would help them feel safer. Avoiding victim-blaming terminology and phrases is the most basic action that can ease women and create safe spaces. The language and the manner in which people conduct themselves set the tone for how they see women who are victims of sexual violence. “What ifs” and assumptions have no place in conversations about these situations because time and time again, nothing on the victims' end could have been done to prevent them from getting hurt.
As soon as the discussion changes from what the perpetrator has done to what the victim has or has not done, a harmful narrative rises to the surface, that women put themselves in dangerous situations. However, women do not get attacked because of their actions; they get attacked because of the actions of their attacker.
But it is not just the men who take advantage of, assault, and murder women who are part of the problem; it is the men who claim they are “just joking,” ignore the word “no,” refuse to take responsibility, dismiss women for speaking out, and most importantly, the men who keep quiet. Men who fail to intervene only continue to perpetuate gender-based violence.
“Blaming women for the heinous actions of their perpetrators must come to a stop...”
Having conversations is important, but they are only as effective as their actioned agendas can take them.
The details of Everard’s story are a painful reminder to women everywhere of the fear of walking alone. It served as a warning that it could have been anyone because she seemed to be doing everything “right,” such as wearing bright clothes and walking under lampposts. Yet, it was not enough. Many responses to stories such as these are always asking what the woman did as if that might have changed the result of the situation.
It is completely unfair to have to advise women to take extra precautions to be safe. In the 21st century, women should be entitled to walk the streets and expect to come home safely. No woman should have to take the longer route home. No woman should have to share her location with family and friends before a night out. No woman should have to carry pepper spray. No woman should be taught to hold her keys between her knuckles. No woman should walk home in fear.